The last two months, I’ve been redoing some things I’ve done before. All these things I’m doing are thought out, and stuff that’s beneficial for me.
I have learned a few important things in the process :
– past success in an activity does NOT guarantee you will succeed at it again. Not true for hobbies and habits – everyone can ride a cycle after decades of not doing it after a few attempts. But in stuff where let’s say you compete, any outcome is possible. Remembering this helps keep one humble and pushes one to do the homework
– learn to accept failure and rejection. If we succeeded at everything, would success hold any value? Success is not an entitlement.. It’s a pursuit. Some simple things to do are :
*first, accept that you have failed. That you tried, and it still didn’t happen
*tell yourself what you’ll do different the next time
*write that in a personal electronic journal, and tag it as “failure”
*you can search for it next time you are about to attempt something new, or after a long time.
My resolve to blog regularly has not worked out too well. I have been kinder on myself than before, though. I have come to realize that I will remain an undisciplined blogger. However, I also realize that I have an urge to write, maybe a more elementary human urge to be heard that I like to express through writing. So, every few months, a sporadic blog post will keep emerging. This is one of those sporadic blog posts. I am on a train back to Bangalore from Chennai, about to begin a 4-day vacation. Next few days will mark my 3rd anniversary, and 30th birthday. So it’s a good opportunity to get reflective.
When you hit an age perfectly divisible by 10, I think you end up evaluating things. Well, not at 10 and 20, you are too immature or too drunk to evaluate anything at those two milestones. Not to say you cannot be immature or drunk when entering 30, but I think this is one of the first birthdays in a long time when I have thought of taking stock of my life.
So, how am I doing? I think I’m doing good. I think I‘m happy. I am not particularly overjoyed; nothing exceptional has happened recently for me to feel ecstatic. But I remember a time when I was perpetually anxious, maybe sorrowful. That has changed.
I am sure of one thing – I am more connected with myself. I am aware of things that give me joy, and things that give me grief. I am aware of things in my life that need fixing, and I know what will happen if I do not fix them. I know life is uncertain, and that I will never be in control. I also know that in-spite of never being in control, the only thing that is in my hands is to wake up everyday and give the world my best.
So, net net, I feel I know myself a little better getting into my 30th year. I know I have far more to be thankful for than to be sad about, and that life has been kind. There is nothing to regret, but there is no time to get complacent. Here’s raising a toast to the last 30 years – thank you, you’ve been awesome.
I am getting back to blogging after 6 months on the unlikeliest of days. A Monday.
So many weeks and months passed, where every Friday, after a week of maddening work at my start-up, I would tell myself I would finally write a blog that weekend. The weekends brought their frolic, and somehow always managed to subdue the thought of sitting and typing my thoughts out here.
Today is the first Monday in a long time I am not working late into Monday night. I thought it was a good idea to use these minutes to come back here and drop a note, for myself to read later.
Work is the same – part fun, part stress, but overall very satisfying. My moment of joy on weekday nights is coming home to the wife and the dog, and spending some time just existing around them. Most days, that seems to be enough. It’s all I want.
Then there are days when dissatisfaction creeps in. With life, or money, or love, or career success, or social standing. All those petty things that tend to nibble away on your happiness. They come, bite sometimes, and leave a sting.
Although as time passes by, I am getting better at getting rid of the sting quickly. The dull moments come, take a toll. But I smile and tell them to move on. And I have found that if I assert myself strongly enough, the stinging feelings leave quickly.
Right now, that is my dominant thought, and the message to my future self. That only we, and we alone, can reason with our demons, and send them away. Other people can come and help, maybe show the way, but in the end it is us who must handle the difficult task of reasoning with ourselves and finding peace in chaos.
Within 4 months of its occurrence, the Delhi Gang Rape has completely disappeared from public discourse. Even The Hindu, which reported the case with maturity and persistence, no longer prints the details of court proceedings on the first page. And this case is supposedly in a “fast track court”. So much is wrong at so many levels: broken judicial system, unaccountable government, and most tragically, apathetic us. Good news is: if we all contribute just a little time, thought and resources to even one cause we truly care about, big collective change can happen. The world has always been tilted more towards wrong than right. Thankfully, we live in a time where a few click on our laptops can help set that balance right.
Mansi loves animals. In Berkeley, she spent a lot of her time working with the Berkeley Animal Care Services. She would attend to dogs and cats, take them for walks and help out in their care. My only contribution to this task in all the months she did it, was to drive her to the care shelter and pick her back up. In spite of multiple opportunities to accompany her to the shelter, I never did. I wasn’t too much of an animal enthusiast. It’s just something I had never paid attention to: whether I loved animals was a question I had never asked myself.
On our evening walks, we would usually find ourselves sitting in a park, watching people playing with their dogs. Berkeley is dog country: well, dog and cyclist country. To think of it, all world should be dog and cyclist country: people and vehicles have not proven to be very successful alternatives. Anyways I digress. Watching these dogs play, I started paying more attention to their behavior. What struck me first was dogs have very unique personalities: I could spot a playful one, a mischievous one, a bored old one, an unfriendly one that really didn’t want to hang out with other dogs. Some of these dogs would get bored of fellow dogs, and stray our way. When some dogs surround you and start acting cute, you have little choice but to pat them. So, over these evening walks, I started observing and even liking dogs.
The evening walks continued after moving back to Delhi. Like always, Mansi would pay attention to dogs, only this time they were everywhere and not in a park. She would stop often to either pet a stray, or buy a packet of biscuit and feed him. I often stood at arm’s distance and shouted cautions such as “don’t touch him – he’s probably infected!” Sometimes, I would make ridiculous statements like “you don’t have to feed them you know, they are strays and are experts at finding food. Your feeding them affect their scavenging skills.” I think what’s more ridiculous than that statement, is that I believed in it.
In some ways, Delhi is more of a dog country than Berkeley. For all the comforts and rights dogs enjoy in the West, a lot of animals with declining health and no owners are euthanized there. In Delhi, stray dogs thrive because they are not “put away”. They survive on what we throw away, sleep under cars, play and fight with each other, and die when it’s time. Bottom line: Delhi is a good place for an animal lover who wants to help. On one of her evening walks, Mansi spotted an old bearded man carrying a big bag of biscuits feeding every stray in the neighborhood. He was being followed by an army of dogs, all vying for his affection and some biscuits. She came home and told me of the Pied Piper of dogs she had spotted. I knew what she was talking about: I had seen him feed stray dogs ever since I was a child. I was happy to know he was still alive, and still at it.
Few days later, Mansi came back from a walk and told me she had spotted that uncle, and struck conversation. His name is AK Goyal. He told her that feeding strays was his way of experiencing pure, selfless love, and that he felt the affection he received from these animals far outweighed the petty price of feeding them. Mansi asked if we could help him (I was auto-signed up for the activity by her). He said that in the park right in front of our house lived two dogs, and he could used help in feeding them since his old dog Manu who always accompanied him refused to go that far (our apartment is some distance from his).
Mansi was very happy to be given this responsibility. The next evening, we bought a large bag of rusks, and left for the park with some of it. Dogs are good at hiding themselves when they want to, so we had to look around for dogs that fit his description: one old, white male and a smaller, brown female. We spotted them, threw some “come hither” gestures their way and waved the bag of biscuits. Reluctantly they approached us. The female was shaking and terrified of what we may do, but couldn’t help herself getting drawn towards food. We made two piles of rusks, and left.
The next day, we returned in the evening. They recognized us: the male came running but the female was still scared, and approached slowly. We fed them, and were on our way again. Over the next few weeks, they understood we were harmless (makes me think of how many people would’ve just kicked them around for the fun of it, they seemed scared of people in general). They would be joyous when we approached them, run around in circles, wag their tales furiously and escort us to the park gate when we left. All this affection rubs off on you; it did on me. I lost my reservation against strays, started patting them, and now usually come back home with their licks on my hands and sometimes even on my face.
Like Goyal uncle had said, as I got regular in feeding them, I realized they really were about pure selfless love. Feed a dog once, and he’s all yours. One small act of kindness is enough to convince him that you’re worthy of his love. And dogs always seem to have a lot of love to give away. We’ve been feeding them for four months now, pretty much without fail. It’s a routine: Mansi or I go to the park alone or together, they come running to us, insist we pat them, and only after we’ve played with them for some time do they graduate to eating their food. A lot of times, they accompany us all the way back to our apartment gate.
We bumped into Goyal uncle one of these days, and told him we had been feeding the dogs regularly. He smiled and told us he had given the two names (he has named every stray dog in the neighborhood, and some smart ones even respond to their names). He called the older male Buddhu, and the petite female Chhoti. Good names, I thought. Buddhu really is a little dumb, and Chhoti is pretty small for stray standards.
Everyday, I look forward to the 10 minutes I spend feeding Buddhu and Chhoti. To connect with another creature: not through words, or actions, but just through touch, makes me believe love can connect different species. Under this skin, maybe all of us living beings are the same: hungry for love, compassion, and some patting.
Here are some life lessons I am reflecting on this Saturday afternoon. Now, I pass you my wisdom:
1. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction. You just need to find the people who live that strange truth, which is a fraction of the large human population. Surrounding yourself with the right or wrong people can make all the difference. If your truth is strange for the people you’re with, the problem isn’t the strangeness of your life as much as it is the dullness of theirs.
2. Humans are simply animals in clothes. They live in a concrete jungle, minimize risk in their daily lives, and will abandon all morals when their survival is at stake. So really, humans are simply animals in clothes. Once this truth is internalized, it’s easy to lose fear of people and also forgive them for their more-often-than-not evil ways.
3. Learning to engineer the mind is tougher than mastering any external force. It is also more rewarding than any external victory. It is a controlled mind that can create joy in misery. An uncontrolled mind can find misery in heaven.
4. Everything around us is an impediment to controlling the mind. From the people eager to learn everything about us to social media sites that force us to paint a picture of a happy life, everything forces us to look outwards. In all this relationship-balancing, success-painting and errand-running, the only person ignored is our own selves. How do you feel every time you log off Facebook? Do you feel “Aah, that was the best 10 minutes I spent today.” Or do you feel “Really? Did I just spend my time liking pictures of what people ate for lunch this Saturday? Won’t it all just mean crap (literally) within the next day?”
5. So really, the sum of 1,2,3 and 4 is this: don’t stress about what you see and project outwards. There’s too much chaos. There’s chaos in our homes, on the streets, in the Parliament, and in the galaxy. And one human lifetime is very short to fix all this chaos. There’s a sea inside of us though, waiting to be discovered. Diving inwards may make people – weird, reclusive, whimsical. But it just may make you happier. So, don’t care, and do your thing.
From March to September, Delhi bakes you. It roasts your fragile body at almost 50 degrees Celsius, and throws in power cuts to mess with you some more. It provides no wind for respite, and when it does, it’s in the form of Loo. To provide that finishing touch to your misery, it asks you to share the city with 16 million people, which takes your endurance to its limits.
Sometime mid-October, the tide turns. The fans go off, and full-sleeved shirts are taken out for dry-cleaning. By the first week of November, winter officially arrives. It becomes acceptable to wear a coat on an evening out without people thinking you are overdoing it, and Pepsi is substituted with coffee. Over the weeks that follow, winter intensifies, and brings with it Diwali, the wedding season and new year. This winter takes you to the first month of the year, letting you spend a few more weeks enjoying the Sun, before handing you over to summer, and with it a year of work and toil.
This winter, it being my first in Delhi after many years, I am trying to spend more time out. There’s a lot to do – visit Dilli Haat, take the folks out for a picnic on the weekend, catch some movies at the theatre with my father-in-law (we share very similar taste in movies), and hopefully visit some of the many historic monuments scattered all over Delhi. Here’s one I visited today, where a friend proposed to his long-time girl friend. Called Bada Lao ka Gumbad, this one is right behind Priya in Vasant Vihar. The security guard might try stopping you from entering quoting it’s a historical preserver, just tip him Rs. 50.
I usually find myself struggling to maintain blogs. I start motivated, and find myself juggling a number of ideas I wish to write about. Over time, most of those ideas lose relevance or are simply lost.
Nevertheless, here I am writing a post after a gap of more than a year. And boy, an eventful year it has been. Tied the knot in November with Mansi, thus successfully closing my “love” project I started with her in class 11th. We moved to Berkeley, spent many months learning to be married in the Bay area. Then this year, we returned to Delhi in August. I had a strong desire to come back home, and realized I was reaching the “now or never” point. With a lot of zealous support from family, I returned to the house I left in 2002 to study engineering in Bangalore.
On returning, Mansi and I spent a lot of time traveling. The most memorable trip was Kerala, on which I hope to write a blog very soon (I made notes on the trip!). Here’s a Sunset we caught in Kerala:
In October, I got in touch with a few bright young folks in Delhi, looking to build a startup. Since I am in my “one life, try what you love” groove, I instantly offered to join them. We call ourselves Outline India, and aim to be a trusted field survey agency for academics and researchers interested in learning more about India through social, economic, policy or business research. It’s exciting times, and I hope to write about our work soon as well.
So all in all, that’s been the year. Winters are here in Delhi, and I’m back to 2 cups of chai in the morning. For now, there’s peace.